Category Archives: Commerce

“Anorak” (the jacket)

My learned colleague Lynne Murphy regularly tweets a “Difference of the Day” (#DotD), pointing out cases where the U.K. and the U.S. use different terms for the same thing. A few days ago, she tweeted

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Several commenters pointed out the similar word “anorak.” And indeed it’s hard to tell them apart by their OED definitions:

Anorak: “A weatherproof jacket of skin or cloth, with hood attached, worn by the Inuit in Greenland; a similar garment elsewhere.” (The first citation is from 1924, the first one in a non-Innuit general sense from 1937.)

Cagoule: “A lightweight, waterproof (or windproof) hooded garment resembling an anorak, worn originally by mountaineers and now generally.”

The first cite for “cagoule” is in 1952 but it didn’t start climbing in popularity till the late 1970s, as this Google Ngram Viewer graph suggests (it still hasn’t taken off in the U.S.):

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Why then? Lynne cleverly suggested, “Looks like ‘cagoule’ in UK is partly motivated by avoiding ‘anorak’ b/c it has a negative sense in BrE.” Negative is right. Here’s the relevant OED entry for “anorak”:

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This insulting “anorak” (similar to “train-spotter”) hasn’t caught on in the U.S., but the literal term has. It’s been used 414 times by the New York Times, including nineteen since the start of 2018. For example, this is from a December 2018 fashion article on “war-core” clothing.

A surfeit of dystopian apparel was evident on the men’s wear runways this year.
Junya Watanabe showed nylon anoraks, wool lumberjack jackets and firefighter coats adorned with the kind of bright reflective tape usually seen on school crossing guards.
Prada trotted out padded nylon vests that look like they could repel bullets and oversize rain suits that looked like they could protect against nuclear fallout.
And for his Calvin Klein Collection show in February, Raf Simons, the creative director, dressed the male models in safety-cone-orange jumpsuits, knee-high waders and knit balaclavas, all of which gave new meaning to the term “fashion emergency.”
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“War-core” garb. On the left, a Watanabe anorak. I think.

“Elasticated”

The ever-vigilant Nancy Friedman sends along this image from  “an NYC-based clothing company”:

The key bit is the “elasticated” waistband. Nancy notes, “In my experience, ‘elasticated’ is UK, ‘elasticized’ is US.”

She’s definitely right about that. The citations for ‘elasticated’ in the OED are all from British sources, starting from the first, in 1925, from Chamber’s Journal: ” A sense of the joy of power silkened and elasticated.”

(And by the way, the fact that that use is metaphorical suggests that “elasticated” had been around for a while beforehand. And sure enough, Google Books yields many antedates, the first being in an 1845 edition of the Repertory of patent inventions and other discoveries. It’s for innovations in the manufacture and use of “elastic fabrics.”

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A Google Ngram Viewer chart shows that use of “elasticated” didn’t pick up until the 1950s, and was far more common in Britain than the U.S.

The chart shows some American use–but I wouldn’t count Nancy’s ad as an example. That’s because the clothing company, A Day, according to its website, appears to be more global than New Yorky. The “About” section reports: “As a team, we embrace being international citizens — our founders Meg (yoga teacher) and Nina (former competitive gymnast) were born in Beijing and Frankfurt, eventually connecting in London and moving together to New York.”

The legit American uses of “elasticated” are sparse and specialized enough that I’m going to tag it “On the Radar.” It’s appeared in the New York Times nineteen times, mostly uttered or written by Brits. It’s also appeared mostly in the fashion pages, including in 2014, when (American) Alex Vudela described a “pentagonal polka dot shirt with an elasticated hem, worn with a matching tie and trainers.”

A couple of the Times references are to Tom Stoppard’s 1974 play Travesties, which is based on real-life characters such as James Joyce. Another, lesser-known real-life character, Henry Carr, remembers Joyce working on Ulysses, although, he says, “at that time we were still calling it (I hope memory serves) by its original title, Elasticated Bloomers.” This factoid was pretty clearly made up by Stoppard, yet a Times review of a 1989 revival of the play took it as fact: mentioning the novel and then adding a parenthetical “(or ‘Elasticated Bloomers,’ as it was originally titled).” More recently, someone posted on Twitter in 2016:

The tweet didn’t get any likes, comments, or retweets, so I repeat the query here. Is it true? I hope so, too.

 

“Colour”

Wandering the aisles of a local store, I encountered this product:

colour“Colour,” of course, is the British spelling; in America–where the Farberware company has been situated since 1900–it’s “color.”

“Range”

I heard a reference on a TV commercial the other day to the “Axe Peace Range”–Axe being a brand of men’s deodorant and such, peace being peace, and “range” being, as I dimly recalled once having learned, the British word for what Americans call “line” (as in “product line”) or “collection.”

To be sure, Axe is a product from Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch company, but my TV is in the U. S. of A., not England or Holland. Unilever’s (American) website notes:

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I couldn’t help noticing that this single page contains no fewer than six Britishisms, starting with range and the inverted commas in the screenshot above. The others: European date format, logical punctuation, and two different spellings. The first is organisation. The second is in reference to the advert where the Peace Range was first announced, on that quintessential American programme The Super Bowl.

Update: As reader Phoebus notes, below, I mistakenly described the Unilever site I saw and quoted. On the company’s American site, there seems to be only one Britishism. That’s right, range.

 

 

Lag time

It seems that just at the moment that brilliant has passed the ironic tipping point in the U.K., American commerce has decided the time is right to adopt it. Brilliant.

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Boden

As noted in such past entries as stockists and opening hours, a number of U.S. retailers have lately affected British terminology, presumably in an attempt to seem hip or classy. Sara Wilson alerted me to a wrinkle on the trend that can be seen in the the clothing purveyor Boden. The company originated in the U.K. but has a robust U.S. website on which, if anything, it seems to use more Britishisms than on its British one. Sara pointed out this banner ad:

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She didn’t know what snaffle means, nor, in fact, if the expression being used was snaffle, snaffle up, or snaffle up to. Neither did I till I looked it up in the OED, whose definition for snaffle is: “To appropriate, seize, catch, snatch.” “I soon snaffled a double role in a big spectacle.”–Sunday Express, 1928. (The OED notes that the verb is sometimes rendered as snaffle up, but I believe that is not the case in the Boden ad, as it would render the word “to” meaningless. Rather, the phrase “up to” signifies some discounts are less than 40 percent.)

The Boden site is studded with flamboyant Britishisms. They call sweaters jumpers, a word that hasn’t been uttered on these shores since the film About a Boy. There are references to honour, sackings (for firings), offers (for sales), a call centre (in Pittston PA), and a range (what Americans would call a line). Logical punctuation is employed, and anyone with a question is instructed to call (why not ring?) a customer care representative on 1-866-206-9508 (needless to say, an American phone number).

Boden, could you be any more precious?

So what’s up with the “u”?

According, to Wikipedia, the athletic clothing company Under Armour was started in 1996 by “Kevin Plank, a 23-year old former University of Maryland special teams captain for the university American football team. Plank began the business from his grandmother’s basement in Washington, D.C.”